9 Natural Insomnia Remedies for When You Can’t Fall Asleep - Nikki Yelton RD

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9 Natural Insomnia Remedies for When You Can’t Fall Asleep

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Quality sleep is essential as our cells regenerate during the deep stages of sleep, which helps us heal! This is why sleep is so crucial to healing the gut. Learn about 9 natural ways to get better sleep.

Well rested woman getting quality sleep

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In my opinion, sleep is highly underrated. If we all got a solid 8-9 hours of quality sleep per night, there would likely be less sickness, food cravings, mental stress, depression, and more. I’m confident happiness would skyrocket. 

Without enough quality sleep, our health severely suffers. We experience more hunger and food cravings. Our immune system takes a hit. Memories fade. Patience, joy, and kindness dissipate. 

It’s no wonder sleep is such a necessity. And, it’s likely more important that most people realize. Despite the importance of sleep, most of us sleep poorly and not enough. According to one study, 95% of Americans reported having insomnia at one point in their life. That sounds like 95% too many! 

SLEEP HELPS YOU HEAL 

As a society, we are in dire need of better sleep. Quality sleep is essential as our cells regenerate during the deep stages of sleep, which helps us heal! This is why sleep is so crucial to healing the gut. It’s needed in order to repair the cells along your gut lining! Scientists are finding more and more links between the quality of your sleep and of the health of your gut microbiome.

When it comes to knowing whether you’re getting enough quality sleep, it’s important to understand the various stages of sleep and why they’re important. 

First off, we have non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Stages 1-3 are considered NREM, which is known as quiet sleep and stage 4 is REM, which is active sleep. As your body transitions through the four stages of the sleep cycle, it moves through different processes that affect your temperature, and breathing, which then affect your cells, muscles, and organ systems. ​​

5 stages of quality sleep
1. Stage 1 NREM

You know when you can feel yourself drifting into sleep, however if someone were to call your name you would still hear them? At this point, you’re in stage 1 of the sleep cycle. The first stage is a time of transition between wakefulness and sleep. At this stage everything starts to slow down一 your brain, breathing, heart rate, and eye movements. Stage 1 lasts for about five to ten minutes and while your brain does slow, it is still very active. 

2. Stage 2 NREM

Stage 2 is where you spend about 50% of your sleep time! This stage serves as a time to guide you into the deeper stages of sleep. Your muscles relax but may twitch and your breathing, heart rate, and body temperature continue to slow down. In this stage the brain produces bursts of quick rhythmic brain activity called sleep spindles. Here your brain compiles, processes, and filters new memories from the previous day. Stage 2 sleep can last from 10 minutes to an hour depending on how long you’ve been sleeping.

3. Stage 3 NREM

Stage 3 NREM is where you enter deep sleep. This is where your body begins to repair and restore itself. At this stage, if someone attempts to wake you, you’ll likely remain in dreamworld. Your body is busy making repairs and chooses to remain uninterrupted. This means noises and activity surrounding you while in stage 3 will likely fail to wake you up. If you do awaken, you’ll be groggy and disoriented. While in this stage, your brain produces deep, slow brain waves called delta waves and processes and stores general knowledge and things you’ve learned. NREM stage 3 sleep also promotes muscle repair as blood flow is increased to your completely relaxed muscles and you produce a growth hormone which prompts tissue growth and cell repair. 

4. Stage 4 REM

Stage 4 is REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is also known as active sleep because your eyes move back and forth behind your eyelids, your heart rate and breathing increases, and your brain lights up with activity. Your muscles however, become temporarily immobilized. This is also the stage where you experience vivid dreams! During REM sleep, your emotions and emotional memories are processed and stored. It also helps supply the brain with problem solving and learning skills. As for the body, REM sleep is the most restorative stage of all. During this stage, your cells rebuild, hormones are released for bone and muscle growth, and immunity is strengthened!

Each stage of sleep plays an important role in your mental and physical health! Your body will naturally regulate your sleep cycles and their duration based on what you need and what areas of your body and mind need the most restoration. For fully restorative sleep, you cycle through these sleep stages multiple times throughout the night. Ideally you should cycle through about 4-6 times at 90 minutes per cycle. This is why we typically recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night! These cycles should also go uninterrupted. If you consistently wake up throughout the night, your sleep stages will be cut short and the restorative functions that occur during that stage won’t complete. We need to cycle through every sleep stage in order to heal fully and properly! 

HOW TO TELL IF YOU GOT A BAD NIGHT’S SLEEP 

A full night’s sleep consists of 7-9 hours generally for adults. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have gotten a night of quality sleep. 

Even if you’re getting in the hours, there are some telltale signs that you may actually be tossing and turning throughout the night or experiencing interrupted stages of sleep. 

You feel groggy and lethargic when you wake up.

Even if you’re not necessarily a morning person, once you get over the initial shock of waking up and getting moving, you should feel awake and energized rather than groggy. 

You woke up more than once or twice during the night.

Waking up once or twice during the night is okay, especially if you need to use the restroom or if you were awoken by a noise. However once it gets to be more than a couple times, it’s a sign you’re not efficiently moving through the stages of sleep. 

You feel desperate for a nap at about midday.

If you constantly feel tempted to hit the hay at about 2-3pm each day, you’re most likely not getting enough quality sleep at night. A good night’s sleep should keep you awake and energized for the whole day without a nap.

You feel thirsty and dehydrated.

Inadequate sleep can affect the abilities of the hormone vasopressin. Vasopressin regulates fluid levels in your body. Without it working optimally, you can experience chronic dehydration. 

You fall asleep SUPER quickly at night.

You should fall asleep within 5-10 minutes of laying down and closing your eyes. If you fall asleep as soon as you hit the bed, it could be a sign that you’re completely exhausted and sleep deprived. 

You have a low libido.

Not enough sleep can affect your hormones, including testosterone. When you don’t produce enough testosterone, which is a sex hormone, you’ll likely feel less inclined do anything more than sleep when it comes to the bedroom. 

You crave sugar and carbs

Insufficient sleep affects your hypothalamus, which controls hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Being sleep deprived throws these hormones out of whack and can trigger sugar and carb cravings for fast energy. 

HEALTH IMPLICATIONS OF NOT ENOUGH SLEEP

Restorative sleep is so essential for good health. Your body needs its rest in order to work at its best! 

Without adequate sleep, you’ll see a ton of health issues arise. As we know, you need to cycle through all of the sleep stages several times throughout the night in order for your body to achieve optimal restoration. 

Health risks of poor quality sleep such as a weakened immune system

Without enough time to repair, restore, and build, you’ll likely begin to see these symptoms:

Weakened Immune System

Your immune system creates antibodies and cytokines while you sleep. These important substances protect you and fight off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Without sleep, you don’t produce enough of these to keep your immune system strong and healthy.

Imbalance in Blood Sugar

When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t release as much insulin after you eat. This affects your ability to regulate blood sugar. This is then the precursor to insulin resistance and diabetes. 

Hormone Imbalance

Hormones are actually produced while you sleep. If you experience several sleep interruptions throughout the night, this can affect growth hormone levels which help repair cells and tissues. These hormones are essential when repairing the gut! 

Mood Fluctuations and Irritability

Sleep deprivation affects the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions and your fight or flight response. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re unable to assess situations more rationally and respond appropriately. 

CAUSE OF SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Unfortunately, there are countless reasons why the majority of Americans experience insomnia, restlessness, and/or poor sleep. Our hustle-and-bustle lifestyle sure doesn’t help, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Commons Causes of Insomnia Include:

Chronic Stress

Stress surrounds us. It’s everywhere- work, home, school. Sometimes it feels like there’s no escaping it. That being said, it’s important to manage stress of all kinds. Your sleep depends on it.

Hormonal Imbalances

When hormones are out of whack, so is your sleep. Particularly, the hormone, cortisol, is of the utmost importance. Most of us experience “reverse cortisol.” Meaning, cortisol is highest in the evening, when it should be the lowest. And, levels are lowest in the morning, when it should be the highest. This imbalance results in night owls and late mornings. 

Blood Sugar Dysregulation

Eating a daily diet of refined carbohydrates and inflammatory oils creates a rollercoaster out of your blood sugar levels. When this happens consistently, blood sugar levels dip too low in the middle of the night (or early morning), around the 2-3 am hours, causing you to wake up and have trouble falling back asleep.

Blue Light Exposure

Our eyes are exposed to blue light all day long, thanks to modern technology. Anything digital- phones, tablets, computers, TVs- all emit blue light. This blue light messes with our circadian rhythm. So, when we watch TV or read on our phones before bed, the blue light tricks our eyes into thinking it’s daytime and uspresses natural melatonin levels. 

9 SLEEP AIDS THAT ACTUALLY WORK

If you find yourself sleepy, yawning and craving a nap throughout the day, it’s time you reevaluate your sleep routine and implement sleep aids that actually work! There are tons of sleep remedies out there, some of which are more effective than others. If you find yourself popping melatonin and Benadryl or guzzling Z-quil in order to get to sleep at night, there are far better options out there! You want to target the root cause of why you’re having trouble sleeping rather than exacerbate it. Here are some sleep aids to help you make quality sleep a priority! 

9 natural insomnia remedies

1. Magnesium

Healthy magnesium levels are essential for optimal sleep. When we’re deficient in this vital mineral, as most of us are, our bodies have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Not all magnesium is created equal and I find a combination of several forms works best. 

These magnesium remedies are some of my favorite ways to ensure a restful night’s sleep.

2. Essential Oils 

Essential oils are naturally calming, which reduces mental stress and relaxes the mind and body. My favorite sleep-time oil blends are:

  • Young Living Peace & Calming 
  • Tranquil blend
  • Lavender 
  • Frankincense 

3. Adaptive Sounds Noise Maker 

Listening to white noise can help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer by blocking out other startling noises, like a car honking, door creaking, or spouse snoring. White noise is an easy and convenient way to boost sleep quality. Download an app on your phone or use a small floor fan. I am personally loving my Hatch sound machine that lets me personalize a sleep routine custom to my needs and goals.  

4. Blue Light Blocking Glasses 

Blue light dysregulates your circadian rhythm. When exposed to blue light at night (after the sun goes down), your eyes think it’s actually day time. To counter this effect, wear blue light blocking glasses while watching TV or scrolling on your phone before bed. My preferred blue light blocking glasses are by Felix Gray.

5. Organic Weighted Blanket 

Weight blankets have quickly become all the rage lately. Probably because they’re so effective at reducing stress and easing anxiety. I’ve even heard them described as a “big hug.” SOMNOS has a beautiful, organic weighted blanket.

5. CBD Oil 

CBD oil naturally helps your body regulate stress through the endocannabinoid system. It reduces inflammation, calms the mind, and relaxes the body- all of which are necessary for a good night’s sleep!

8. Sleep Support Blends*

It might surprise you to learn that I don’t recommend the long term use of melatonin, as it simply masks the root problem. Instead, try herbal remedies to encourage relaxation in the body. 

It might surprise you to learn that I don’t recommend the long term use of melatonin, as it simply masks the root problem. Instead, try herbal remedies to encourage relaxation in the body. 

Additionally, you can try these effective nutrient blends: 

9. Uplevel Your Bedding 

Without a doubt, an old, saggy mattress or rough sheets will discourage sleep. If it’s time to upgrade your mattress and bedding, always look for non-toxic options, like the Avocado mattress and organic sheets.

BALANCING CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: YOUR GOLDEN TICKET TO A BETTER NIGHT SLEEP

The secret to achieving optimal sleep that encourages healing and restoration is to regulate your circadian rhythm! Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and help regulate areas in our body such as our hormones, digestion, and temperature. 

Unfortunately our circadian rhythm and natural master clock is very susceptible to changes in our environment and lifestyle that can throw off our sleep (especially the deep REM sleep that the body craves). These changes are typically due to our genetic makeup, irregular work schedules (such as working the night shift), jet lag, and exposure to light from electronic devices. 

How balancing the circadian rhythm is they key to quality sleep

5 simple tips you can start now to improve your natural sleep clock and circadian rhythm include: 

  1. Waking up and sleeping at the same time each day. Aim for a time that works best for you and your lifestyle. Ideally, our body responds best when we go to bed at 10pm and wake at 6am. This can change for you based on daylight savings time since our circadian rhythm shifts with the seasons. 
  1. To increase serotonin and melatonin levels which are vital for good sleep, aim for 20 minutes of mid-day sunlight. As an added bonus, you will absorb natural vitamin D which is also linked with improved sleep quality. 
  1. Make sure your room is completely dark! You might want to invest in blackout curtains and or a sleep mask to help block any street lights or light from an electronic, such as your alarm clock. 
  1. Use a dimmable light or candles after the sun goes down. I love my salt lamp because you can naturally dim it as the sun goes down while still providing a gentle night light. You can also use the Hatch device and set it on a timer to mimic the sun. Try to avoid harsh bright lighting in your home after the sun goes down. 
  1. Eliminate your exposure to electronic devices 2 hours before bedtime. This includes laptops, tablets, cellphones, and watching television. 
natural insomnia remedies
WRAPPING IT ALL UP

Needless to say, making sleep a priority is essential when it comes to healing your gut, reversing autoimmunity, and just living a healthy life! Quality sleep is often overlooked as a pillar of good health, especially in modern society where everything is always go, go, go! Sleep is so important and I encourage you to clean up your sleep hygiene and prioritize your bedtime routine.

It’s also worth noting that chronic insomnia or sleep trouble is not normal! If you’re still unable to get quality sleep even after trying these sleep aids or feel fatigued regardless of how much you sleep at night,  it’s important to understand why. If you’re experiencing chronic insomnia or sleep trouble, I encourage you to talk with your doctor. Consult with your health professional to see if hormones, stress, nutrient deficiencies, or gut health is disrupting sleep.

For additional sleep resources, visit my resources page. 

*Please consult with your doctor and/or practitioner before starting any of the supplements listed above. These statements are not approved by the FDA. Personalized supplementation protocols are the best way to ensure regimens are the right fit for you.  The results presented here are individual and are not promised to be the exact results you’ll get.

natural insomnia remedies for when you cant fall asleep
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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